Field Research Centre | Ecotron

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Field Research Centre

The Field Research Centre (FRC) is located in the periphery of Connecterra, the main gate to the National Park Hoge Kempen.

Currently the National Park is the only recognized TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) region within Belgium.

At the FRC, Hasselt University and RLKM perform, promote and support biodiversity-related research within the Limburg region, together with volunteers, park rangers and students.

The FRC hosts the ECOTRON, the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS), and is partner in Lifewatch and Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network (LTER).

As a master or bachelor student you can opt to perform your fieldwork within the National Park Hoge Kempen or its surroundings. Yearly we offer several topics or you can propose your own topic. If you are interested, please contact us.

For schools, organisations, and companies, it is possible to organize an educational excursion to the National Park or its environment. You can compile your own program and we take care of the overnights, or we can compile a tailor-made program for you. We collaborate closely with the Rangers of the National Park.

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Ecotron

The Ecotron is part of the Field Research Centre, the scientific base of Hasselt University for top international research on biodiversity and climate in the Hoge Kempen National Park.

The UHasselt Ecotron is a large scale research infrastructure that allows for sophisticated state-of-the-art controlled climate experiments, to study the effects of climate, and climate change on ecosystem functioning. It provides insight into the impact of climate change on a given ecosystem that cannot be gained by field experiments (too complex) or simpler controlled laboratory experiments (too reductive). Thanks to its unequalled density of real-time monitoring soil sensors, combined with cutting-edge level of control on atmospheric and soil parameters, the UHasselt Ecotron provides us with a wide set of opportunities to advance and shape the research agenda. The Ecotron facility is used in combination with side experiments in microcosms to explore this relationship further. The goal is to figure out to which extent the diversity of soil organisms matters for the delivery of soil processes and services such as nutrient cycling or C sequestration, rather than the identity of the dominant species instead.

The UHasselt Ecotron consists of 12 closed sun-lit units, where environmental conditions can be separately controlled. Each unit hosts a lysimeter with soil-canopy column of 3.14 m2 and 1.5 m deep, where ecosystem processes can be monitored all in real time.

  • The following variables can be controlled: air temperature, air relative humidity, air CO2 concentration, precipitation, soil water tension, and soil temperature.
  • The following variables are monitored every 1 to 30 min: air CH 4 and N 2 O concentrations, air pressure, net radiation, photosynthetically active radiation, soil electrical conductivity, soil water content, soil weight, and soil leachate weight.
  • All soil parameters are measured at 15 positions: 5 depths (10, 20, 35, 60, 140 cm) and at 3 spatial positions per depth.
  • Additionally, suction cups are sampling soil water at the same 15 positions per unit.

From these variables, net ecosystem exchange, evapotranspiration, as well as CH 4 or N 2 O emissions can be calculated with high resolution and frequency.

The Ecotron UHasselt is connected to the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) measuring station in the Mechelse Heide, which is part of the European ICOS network for measuring greenhouse gases and other weather variables. The results of the measurements are sent in near real time to the ECOTRON. The ICOS measuring station was realized by the University of Antwerp with financial help from the Hercules Foundation and FWO, and with Hasselt University as substantive partner. In 2019, the Ecotron UHasselt was equipped with educational peripheral infrastructure.

A matching observation tower was built next to the Ecotron UHasselt, the Tronton, which makes it possible for visitors to take a look through the domes of the Ecotron. Two outdoor classrooms have been set up in the vicinity of the Ecotron where the educational program of the “Ecotron Mystery for Secondary Education” takes place. In the publicly accessible area of ​​the Ecotron, there is an exhibition, including an experience stand with smartboard (in collaboration with Jo Klaps of the Department of Architecture and Art of Hasselt University).

As a master or bachelor student you can perform theses and internships within the long-term Ecotron experiments.

For companies, research institutes or other stakeholders, we offer the opportunity to conduct a project in our long-term Ecotron experiments.

Would you like to visit the Ecotron? This is possible under the supervision of Ranger of the Hoge Kempen National Park.

Ecotron behind the scenes

Ecotron mysterie

Please check out our projects at the research domains, and if interested get in touch with us.

CaTrEIn - Lifewatch

Within the Camera Trap Research Infrastructure (CaTrEIn), a set of wildlife camera traps are placed in the National Park Hoge Kempen (in collaboration with INBO). In recent years the use of camera traps has become increasingly popular for monitoring wildlife behaviour, abundance and community structure. Camera traps allow for continuous non-invasive monitoring of species communities, without disturbing the animals. Compared to other monitoring methods, they require minimal staff input and recent quality improvements have made camera traps reliable research instruments. Nonetheless, not only do camera traps generate large quantities of pictures, one also has to identify species as well as number of individuals on those pictures. In order to allow both long term biodiversity monitoring and local research projects, data sharing is a prerequisite. Therefore data collection, storage and metadata processing have to be standardized and well documented.

CaTrEIn aims at providing the hardware (a set of high quality camera traps that can be used in different projects), in combination with a platform that allows the project management as well as annotation of camera trap images. Furthermore, a data pipeline is being developed to publish camera trap images as open data and provide archiving of the data.

Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network

The National Park Hoge Kempen is recognized as a Belgian LTER (Long-Term Ecosystem Research Network) platform within the European LTER program.

At the FRC we strive to monitor several biotic and abiotic parameters in collaboration with existing European infrastructure, belonging to other European Research Infrastructure (ESFRI) programmes, such as ICOS and Lifewatch.

Partners

With the support of:

Terhills
Ag Natuur En Bos
Pnc
Lsm
Hercules
Uhasselt Standaard

How to get there

Field Research Centre (FRC) - Zetellaan 52, 3630 Maasmechelen (Belgium)

GPS Coordinates: Latitude 51.0000457 Longitude 5.7042895

The Field Research Centre - UHasselt is located on Terhills, the main gate of the only national park in Belgium, the National Park Hoge Kempen.

To reach the FRC, take exit 33 on the E314 highway (Brussels - Aachen) and follow the signs ‘Maasmechelen Leisure Valley’ on a route that follows the canal for some kilometers. Keep following this road across tree roundabouts until the signs 'PARKING EUROSCOOP' and 'CONNECTERRA' indicate the parking lot. Continue the rest of the way (300m) walking trough the French Garden.  You'll find the Field Research Centre on your left side.